These Chart Topping Hit Songs Have Wildly Misinterpreted Lyrics
Song lyrics open the doors for several different interpretations. Sometimes, listeners don’t pay close enough attention to what’s being sung and base their assumptions off of the beat or melody. Other times, no matter how hard fans scrutinize the verses, they still completely miss the mark; like when John Hughes based an entire movie around misinterpreting one song. You may have heard these songs hundreds of times and never realized what the artist was trying to say. Do you know the true meanings behind these hit songs?
“Rock The Casbah” Was About The Iranian Music Ban
The Clash’s rock classic “Rock The Casbah” only appeared political to fans who scrutinized the lyrics carefully. Even so, fans may not have registered all the meaning. Surprisingly, The Clash wrote the song as a response to the 1979 music ban in Iran, instated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Frontman Joe Strummer mentioned in a radio interview that he began writing the song after hearing about the violent punishments issued for playing music in Iran. He attempted to translate his feelings about fanaticism in “Rock The Casbah.” “There’s no tenderness or humanity in fanaticism,” Strummer said.
“Total Eclipse Of The Heart” Relates To…Vampires?
Most people who listen to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” assume that the song represents staying in a relationship that is ultimately destructive. In reality, the song is about vampires. You read that right–vampires.
Writer Jim Steinman originally wrote the song while working on a Nosferatu musical, and titled it “Vampires in Love.” “If anyone listens to the lyrics, they’re really like vampire lines,” Steinman stated in an interview. “It’s all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love’s place in the dark.”
“Royals” Is Based Off A Baseball Team
Ever since New Zealand artist Lorde dropped “Royals” in 2013, people have meditated on its deeper meanings. Most fans propose that the song displays Lorde’s frustration with cultural standards overwhelmed by wealth and excess. But what if we told you that Lorde got the song from the Kansas City Royal baseball team?
In an interview with VH1, Lorde explained that she found a picture of the Kansas City Royals team in National Geographic. The player signing baseballs wore a shirt that said “Royals,” and Lorde liked the word. She pinned the idea off of that one baseball jersey.
No, “In The Air Tonight” Does Not Feature A Man Drowning
If you haven’t heard of this theory, you may be wondering where it came from. For years, fans have speculated that Phil Collins’ 1981 single “In The Air Tonight” chronicles Phil (or another man) watching person drown, and not helping. This theory skyrocketed in popularity after Eminem referenced the interpretation in his song “Stan.”
According to Phil Collins, none of that is true. Collins wrote the song during his taxing and heart-wrenching divorce in 1980. He told Rolling Stone that though the lyrics were spontaneous, he poured a lot of his anger and despair into it.
“Pretty In Pink” Is More Like “Pretty With Nothing On”
The Psychedelic Furs classic “Pretty in Pink” may be most well known for inspiring John Hughes’ movie of the same name. Beyond the movie, people have invented whimsical explanations for the song, from transgenderism to a woman who died. The real reason is simple–Caroline sleeps around. That’s the song.
“The idea of the song was, ‘Pretty in Pink’ as a metaphor for being naked,” explained singer/songwriter Richard Butler in an interview. “The song, to me, was actually about a girl who sleeps around a lot…And John Hughes, bless his late heart, took it completely literally and completely overrode the metaphor altogether!”
The Meaning Behind “The Macarena” Makes It Much More Awkward To Dance To
While dancers figure out where to put their hands during “The Macarena,” most don’t listen to the lyrics. Los del Rio actually made the song about a girl who cheats on her boyfriend while he’s away. Knowing that makes the song a lot more awkward to dance to during weddings.
In English, some of the lyrics translate to “Macarena has a boyfriend who they call…And when he left to sign up for the army / She was giving it away to his two friends.” Yikes.
This Deodorant “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Dozens of theories have been tossed around about the meaning behind Nirvana’s hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Most fans interpret the lyrics to represent teen angst or societal pressures pushed on teens. In reality, the title came from the Teen Spirit deodorant that Kurt Cobain used to wear.
In August 1990, Cobain and Kathleen Hanna spent a drunk night in a hotel where Kathleen wrote on the wall, “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The rest of the song’s rift came from Kurt playing a silly rift to bug his band members, and apparently, a bunch of random phrases strung together.
“Le Freak” Responds To Being Rejected From A Night Club
Most dancers don’t pay close attention when Chic’s “Le Freak” blasts during parties. The song strikes most people as a vapid happy dance song. In reality, Chic created the song after being rejected at the door of Studio 54 nightclub on New Year’s Eve in 1977.
Chic later wrote about the nightclub’s doorman. The chorus initially contained harsh curse words, but a Christian band member watered it down to “Aww, freak off!” which later became “Aww, freak out! Though radio execs hated the song, they had to play it after it rose to number one on the charts.
“Like A Virgin” Has Nothing To Do With Virgins
Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” has remained a pop music hit for its raunchy lyrics. At least, people assumed they were raunchy until one of the songwriters, Billy Steinberg, revealed that the song represents him entering into a new relationship.
“I had been in this really difficult relationship,” Steinberg told Ones to Watch. “I finally emerged from that relationship, and I met somebody new, and fell in love…The line ‘Like A Virgin’ came out of the concept of ‘shiny and new.'”
“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” — As Literal As A Song Can Get
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles sparked some tense reactions. Even the BBC banned the song for its supposed acid references. To many peoples’ surprise, John Lennon asserted that he based the song off of a drawing by his four-year-old son, Julian.
“My son Julian came in one day with a picture he painted about a school friend of his named Lucy,” Lennon said in an interview. “He had sketched in some stars in the sky and called it ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ Simple.” Despite this confirmed story, listeners still argue that the song isn’t entirely acid-free.
“Born In The U.S.A.” Is Not Patriotic
Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A.” has played during nearly every election event since its release in 1984. Most people interpret this song as a patriotic anthem to the United States. In actuality, it’s the complete opposite.
If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll notice that the song details a Vietnam veteran who feels lost after coming home, finding his service to be of consequence. Springsteen critiques America’s involvement in the Vietnam War through the verses. He even called “Born In The U.S.A.” the most misunderstood song ever.
“Mother And Child Reunion” Came From A Chinese Restaurant Menu
Most listeners take the title of Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” into account while interpreting the song. The off-putting title had a bizarre inception. In a 1972 Rolling Stone interview, Simon said that he found the title on a Chinese restaurant menu. The dish contained chicken and eggs, a “Mother and Child Reunion.”
Even so, the title has little to do with the song’s substance. You may believe the song chronicles a meeting between mother and child in the afterlife, but it’s actually about Simon’s pet dog getting run over by a car–his first encounter with death.
“The Sounds Of Silence” Does Not Reference The Kennedy Assassination
Here’s another Paul Simon song that fans over-analyzed. Since its release in 1964, listeners have theorized that the melancholy lyrics possibly referenced President Kennedy’s assassination the year before. In a more innocent twist, Simon claimed that the song is about him playing guitar alone in a dark bathroom.
In an interview with Playboy, Simon explained that while he lived with his parents, he retreated to the quiet bathroom to practice guitar. “I used to go off in the bathroom,” he said. “Because the bathroom had tiles, it was a slight echo chamber…and I’d play. In the dark.”
“Waterfalls” Has A Much Darker Meaning Than Anyone Expected
T.L.C.’s 1994 hit “Waterfalls” inspired multiple different interpretations from listeners. From chasing false dreams to pursuing a toxic relationship, fan theories have reached several different conclusions. Contrary to all of these, T.L.C. originally wrote the song to promote awareness of AIDs and narcotic use.
T.L.C. have long spoken out against the dangers of HIV and drug use. During concerts, Left Eye would even wear condoms on her clothes and glasses to advise against STDs. Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins said that the group aimed to “get the message across without seeming like preaching.”
“American Pie” Mentions A Tragic Plane Crash
Don McLean’s iconic song “American Pie” became a staple at karaokes and dinner parties after its release in 1971. Though the original song spanned eight minutes long, most people remember its rhythmic, cheery chorus. They forget that the song refers to the 1959 plane crash that killed J.P. Richardson, Buddy Holly, and Ritchie Valens.
Although McLean told The Guardian that the lyrics are intentionally vague, he still asserts that “The lyrics had to do with the state of society at the time.” The song reflects McLean’s confused morality after the plane crash was dubbed “the day that music died.”
“I Will Always Love You” Was Not Inspired By Love
The original 1973 song “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton did not stem from epic romance, as most listeners suspected. Parton conceived the song by her decision to move on from working with her professional mentor, Porter Wagoner.
“We had one of those relationships where we were just so passionate about what we did,” Porter told The Tennessean. “It was like fire and ice.” Porter displayed her appreciation for her mentor through the incredible song.
“Imagine” Is A Communist Song
Most people believe that John Lennon’s ballad “Imagine” encourages people to put aside their differences to change the world. Strangely, the song is much more political. Lennon told Rolling Stone that “Imagine” is “virtually the Communist Manifesto, even though I am not particularly a communist and I do not belong to any movement.”
Lennon admitted to his biographer that he sugarcoated the song to make it sound more acceptable. “Imagine” has the listener picture a world without possessions or religion, but the sweetness covers up the political undertones.
“I Don’t Like Mondays” Comments On A Real Life School Tragedy
Audiences who hear The Boomtown Rats’ hit “I Don’t Like Mondays” likely relate it to the drudgery of beginning a work week. Most don’t remember that the song references a school shooting that occurred forty years ago by 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer.
On January 29, 1979, Spencer opened fire at Glover Cleveland Elementary School in San in Diego. While the SWAT team descended on Spenser, a reporter from the San Diego Tribune reached her over the phone to hear her disturbing explanation. “I just did it for the fun of it. I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”
If “Every Breath You Take” Sounds Stalker-ish, That’s Because It Is
“Every Breath You Take” by The Police has long been regarded as a romantic song about a possessive lover. But those who listen more closely may realize the darker tones of jealousy litter the lyrics.
Sting reported that “the song is very, very sinister” and was disconcerted when people playing it at their weddings. He had jotted down the song while thinking of “Big Brother, surveillance and control.” The song highlights toxic jealousy more than intense romance.
“Slide” Goes Into An Accidental Pregnancy
The Goo Goo Dolls’ hit “Slide” has struck many listeners as romantic puppy love, possibly about teenager flings. While the song does highlight a teenage romance, it suggests a darker element of a couple struggling with the option of abortion.
In an episode of VH1’s Storytellers, lead singer Johnny Rzeznik said that the lyrics illustrate “two teenage kids, and the girlfriend gets pregnant, and they’re trying to decide whether she should get an abortion, or they should get married…I don’t think a lot of people got that.”